Russia Travel Guide

Russia FlagRussia is by far the largest country in the world (totaling 1/8 of all Earth’s inhabited land) and is the 9th most populated. While 75% of the country is on the Asian continent, only 22% of the country’s population resides there. The other 78% live in the 25% part of the country on the European continent (which takes up 1/3 of the continent).

St Basil Cathedral in Moscow

St Basil Cathedral in Moscow

Let me try to put Russia’s size in prospective for you. My dad and I jumped 7 time zones flying from one end of the Trans-Siberian train at Vladivostok back to the beginning in Moscow. When my dad flew back to Kansas City from Moscow he only jumped eight times zones. This means the part of Russia we saw was only one time zone less than all of Europe, the entire Atlantic Ocean, and half of America combined……and there are two other time zones we did not get to!!!!

Helpful Info
Population – 144,527,000
Money – Ruble (as of Feb 2020 US$1 = RUB 62; current rate available at
Language – Russian
Religion – 47.4% Christian (41.1% Russian Orthodox), 38.2% are non-religious
When to go – April-Oct is when it is warmest
World Heritage Sites – 26 – Altai Golden Mountains, Bolgar, Central Sikhote-Alin, Church of the Ascension, Curonian Spit, Derbent, Ferapontov Monastery, Kamchatka volcanoes, Kazan Kremlin, Kizhi Pogost, Komi Forests, Kremlin & Red Square, Lake Baikal, Lena Pillars NP, Novgorod, Novodevichy Convent, Putorana Plateau, St Petersburg, Solovetsky Islands, Struve Geodetic Arc, Trinity Sergius Lavra, Uvs Nuur Basin, Vladimir & Suzdal, Western Caucasus, Wrangel Island, Yaroslavl
Country formed – Tsardom formed in 1547, the Empire in 1721, and the Republic in 1917
Cathedral in St Petersburg

Cathedral in St Petersburg

The country we know of as Russia started with the banding together of Slavic tribes from Eastern Europe. They accepted Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium in 867AD, but were decentralized due to the Mongol invasion of the 13th and 14th centuries. Finally, in the mid 1400’s Ivan the Great reunited the Russian people and took the double headed eagle as his symbol (eventually being adopted as the Russian symbol).

By the end of Ivan the Terrible’s rein towards the end of the 16th century the country had amassed most of the land it owns today and the Tsar’s started ruling. This is all fine and dandy, but it was not until Peter the Great formed the Russian Empire in 1721 that it became a world power. He modernized the country and based it on the empires of western Europe. This continued through his granddaughter Catherine the Great all the way until 1917 when Nicholas II and his family were slaughtered during the Russian Revolution.

Lenin, and then Stalin, led the communist based Red Army as the USSR grew to encompass much of Eastern Europe, after WW2 and through the Cold War, behind the Iron Curtain. Starting at the end of 1991 the Soviet Empire collapsed and the country was thrown into turmoil. The good news is that Russia is growing and thriving as a democracy and free market.

My Visit

At the end of the line....we made it!

At the end of the line….we made it!

My first visit to Russia was in September of 2016 with the goal of taking my father on the Trans-Siberian train. Before we boarded we visited several of the European cities. Our first stop was three nights in St Petersburg (named after Saint Peter and not Peter the Great who founded the city in 1703) where we visited The Hermitage (Winter Palace), Peter & Paul Fortress, Russian Museum (art museum also), Peterhof (summer palace), and several smaller places.

We then took the Red Arrow (luxurious overnight train) to Moscow where we stayed another three nights. Here we spent time at St Basil Cathedral, Red Square, The Kremlin, the State Museum, and Tagansky Protected Command Point (soviet era nuclear bunker).

Amber Room

A painting of the lost Amber Room

We also spent a day in Vladimir and another day in Suzdal before boarding the Trans-Siberian train. We rode the train for four and half days to Mongolia where we spent a week. We then took a 36-hour train back to Russia and disembarked in Irkutsk near Lake Baikal. Before we saw anything, We flew to Yakutsk in central Siberia so we could visit the Lena Pillars on the Lena River (11th longest river in the world). Once we flew back we explored Irkutsk, Listvyanka, and Lake Baikal before another three-day train to the end of the line in Vladivostok. We finished with a day exploring Vladivostok (the San Francisco of Russia) before flying out of the country by way of Moscow.

Since the visa I got for the trip with my father was a three year, multi-entry one, I visited Russia again in August 2019 in order to spend several days in the Kaliningrad Oblast to explore the city, see where 90% of all the worlds amber comes from, and travel up the Curonian Spit and leave via Lithuania. The interesting thing about Kaliningrad Oblast is that it is the only part of Russia removed from the rest of the country.

Likes, Dislikes, and Recommendations

Lena Pillars in Yakutsk

Lena Pillars in Yakutsk

I am very happy with the itinerary I came up with and feel like it gave us the best chance of seeing as much of Russia as possible. There was nothing that I wish we did not see. With that said, my favorite city was tiny (10,000 people) Suzdal with the earthen kremlin, churches, and monasteries. In St Petersburg, The Hermitage lived up to the hype that I had bestowed on it as one of the top 5 art museums in the world. I also loved walking around the city center at night and seeing all the buildings and bridges lit up. My favorite things in Moscow had to be St Basil’s Cathedral and the nuclear bunker (if you can imagine the surrealism of being an American in a Soviet era nuclear bunker). Vladimir has the Golden Gate, Lake Baikal the seals, Vladivostok a submarine museum, Kaliningrad the amber, and the Curonian Spit nature.

About the only thing I disliked was the “1st class” train to Mongolia. The problem was that it was a Mongolian car and it sucked (I have no other way to say it). The other trains we took were quite nice and comfortable. Traveling across the country by rail was a worthy experience for my dad and I.

Peterhof in St Petersburg

Peterhof in St Petersburg

The three biggest recommendations I have is to first have patience with the visa process. Russians love their bureaucracy! The process is quite simple, 1)get an invitation letter, 2)fill out the application online, and 3)send in your letter, application, and passport to the embassy. I used TraVisa to help me with the visa process and I highly recommend you spend the extra money and have them help.

The second recommendation is more of a heads up. You must register in each new city you visit. We never had to do anything, because our hotel took care of it. BUT, they charged us $7-15 each to do this. There is no way to argue against it, and I am sure the hotel is making some money on it, but just don’t be surprised when they ask for money for it.

The final recommendation is to have a copy of the Russian alphabet and the Russian spelling of subway and train stations. Google maps works great in Russia, but it will give you the names of stops in English. This does you no good since the Russian name looks nothing like the English name and nothing is in English.

You can get even more helpful hints by reading what all we did during our time in Russia in my blog posts below.

All Blogs From Russia

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